Most of us join a religion as part of growing up, often taking on the faith our parents professed. We don't have much choice. We were "brought up" in their religion.

In the late 1960s, I began to teach religion in a diocesan high school. My students often reminded me they had no choice in their religious training. So, they contended, I shouldn't expect them to accept "the stuff" I was trying to "cram down their throats."

Part of their teenage rebellion revolved around rejecting their parents' faith.

Commitment

The authors of the Scriptures wrote nothing for 16-year-olds. Their goal was to demonstrate the implications of faith for people who had freely committed to their faith.

In some important sense, we don't give ourselves over to faith; faith "overtakes" us. In the title song of her recent album, "The Calling," Mary Chapin Carpen-ter reflects on this phenomenon in her own life: "Deep in your blood or a voice in your head, on a dark lonesome highway, it finds you instead. So certain it knows you, you can't turn away, something or someone has found you today....There's no other way, there's no other way."

Of course, no matter how deeply we're convinced there's no other way, we're constantly tempted to find one. Though Jeremiah freely committed himself to be Yahweh's prophet, he continually must deal with "outsiders" who attempt to stop him from being the conscience of his people.

In Sunday's first reading (Jer 38:4-6,8-10), "the princes" try to have Jeremiah killed because he proclaims peace during a time of war. They complain to the king, "He is demoralizing the soldiers who are left in the city, and all the people, by speaking these things to them; he is not interested in the welfare of our people, but in their ruin."

The author of the second reading (Hebrews 12:1-4) offers a suggestion to those in his community who might be tempted to chuck their faith's calling because of "opposition from sinners."

They're to focus on that "great cloud of witnesses" who have gone before them in faith, especially Jesus. (It might be good to remember that the Greek word for witness is "martyr.") Says the author: "Consider how Jesus endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart."

Even if we had no outside opposition, we'd still have to face the internal tensions Jeremiah refers to in his famous (and depressing) chapter 20 "confession." Some of the same tensions are brought up in the Gospel (Luke 12:49-53).

Source of division

There's an "anguish" which comes from simply carrying out the call we accept, especially when we experience the effect it has on others. "Do you think I have come to establish peace on the earth?" Jesus asks. "No, I tell you, but rather division."

We might be as convinced as Jeremiah that our calling was an essential part of us even before God "formed us in the womb," yet we still might not like the place it assigns us in our everyday lives.

If we're normal human beings, we don't look forward to being a bone of contention for the "good folks" we daily encounter. Left to our own desires, we'd much rather live a more peaceful existence. We'd prefer someone else be the person "to set the earth on fire." More than anything else, the opposition of our loved ones often stops us from fulfilling our faith commitments.

Perhaps that's why Mary Chapin Carpenter ends her song with a question: "Who would believe me? I can't really say. Whatever the calling, the stumbling and falling, I followed it knowing there's no other way."

I've discovered, through the years, that most high schoolers, even in Catholic schools, have yet to reach that dimension in their faith.

(8/23/07)